Just a quick word from me as I am handing over this letter to Trevor as my guest writer this month. We have been busy getting Giselle ready for next year, the principals are now coming to grips with the style and drama of the piece and we caste the first production this week in Stevenage. All exciting and nerve wracking stuff! We also welcome a new Ballerina to out team Alex Newton who will dancing the Queen of the Wilis and is currently dancing in William Tuckett’s “Pinocchio” at the ROH. A few messages. Robert Howse who started at the Northern School of Ballet will be appearing in their production of “The Nutcracker” one of only two first year students to be picked, Hattie Archer got 95% for her RAD grade 8 and Sarah Hoar started at Central School of Ballet in September. Congratulations to all. Well that's it from me. Have a good Xmas and new year and keep working hard.
Hi, for those of you who didn’t do Coppélia in Preston, Worthing and High Wycombe this year, my name is Trevor and I played the part of Dr Coppelius. Dominic has asked me do a quick article about Coppélia and a few thoughts about playing Dr Coppelius, but first an extremely quick C.V.
I trained at the Arts Education School, leaving there I spent ten years as a soloist with London Festival Ballet, now renamed English National Ballet. Following that I worked in musicals. Having always been interested in choreography, I then moved into providing the movement/choreography in plays, operas and musicals. I also coach actors in movement and dance.
Now back to Coppélia.
I was first introduced to Coppélia at the age of about six or seven, whilst at primary school. Back then BBC radio used to broadcast a programme called Time and Tune, and part of it included the music of Coppélia, by Leo Delibes, or as I recently heard a member of the stage crew say
“I know who wrote the music for Coppélia; you don’t think I know who wrote it, but I do. It were Leroy Dela Bees”.
Of course little did I realise how often that music was going to keep reappearing throughout my life.
My next encounter with the piece was as a student watching performances at the London Coliseum by London Festival Ballet; a company that I was later to join, and yes, I do remember Mss Lewis performing Lead Mazurka in Act One. And she was absolutely lovely (I know who pays my wages). The first time that I actually performed in the ballet was in my final year at Arts, when it was used as the end of year graduation show This version was based on an old Royal Ballet production, and although I ended up playing the part of Franz in the performance, in rehearsals we used to change parts just for fun, and I think this is where I started to pick up additional bits of mime that previous generations of dancers have used when playing Dr Coppelius, and which I use now.
From Arts Ed into English National Ballet and Jack Carter’s production of Coppélia When he had first mounted his version, Jack had spent many hours researching in the archives of the Paris Opera, where Coppélia had its premier in 1870, and had used many of the original floor patterns in his choreography, and had also used a lot of the original Act Two mime scenes
Of course, I wasn’t cast in such important parts as when I had performed it as a student. It was back to being “Third Peasant from the Left” in Act One and “Non-dancing Peasant standing at the Back” in Act Three. However, over the years, I climbed up the ladder, firstly dancing “Betrothal and Work Hours” and then many, many performances of “Father Time”; a madcap character in long Greek robes and bald wig.
I never did get cast again as Franz, but I did get cast as Dr Coppelius in Jack Carter’s production.
Rehearsals with Jack were always fun. An extremely musical choreographer, he’d had his own music performed at the Royal Festival Hall, and it wasn’t unknown for him to throw the rehearsal pianist off the piano saying “ Not like that. This is how Delibes composed it”, and playing it himself.
I’d know for some time that I’d been cast as Dr Coppelius, and had been watching from the wings for months, so I knew it fairly well by the time I had my first rehearsal with Jack. Helpful and interesting as he was, it wasn’t until we retired to the coffee bar after the rehearsal, that the real gems started to come out. “Why do you turn to the left not the right?” He’d ask. “Why do you do this on that piece of music? How do you make the audience think that? Is Dr Coppelius friendly with the Burgomaster? Does he know Swanilda before the ballet starts? Why does he carry a walking stick? Has he got a bad knee? Has he got gout, or an arthritic hip? In which case, which one?” The list went on for hours; some of it relevant, some things not so important, and maybe some discarded completely, but all building up the background character of the person.
I did my first performance at the London Coliseum and I don’t think I‘ve been so nervous since.
Yes I have.
First morning of rehearsals for a musical based on the Charles Dickens story Great Expectations, in which I was doing the choreography. I felt so ill I nearly took a taxi home.
But back to Coppélia.
I don’t know who choreographed the next production in which I performed the part of Dr C, but I know it was the third version that I’d learnt. The difficult thing I find about learning a new version of one of the classics, is that although they are all based on the same story and of course the same music, a lot of the mime/choreography is slightly different, not very different, but slightly different. The mime scenes that are completely new are much easier to learn; it’s the bits that are, for example, three musical counts later than the last time you did it, or it’s the right foot, not the left foot, that are more tricky to remember. I don’t actually remember much about this production, except that the whole cast got extremely tired, Long coach trips from one theatre to the next and very little sleep. However I do remember one dreadful night during Act Two, when Swanilda and I decided, for some reason, that we would both forget what came next at exactly the same time. We looked at each other blankly for maybe a second or two, then I decided that I had better do something, so I mimed. I don’t know what I was saying, I just kept miming until one of us eventually remembered what we were supposed to be doing. If anyone in the audience was familiar with ballet mime, the conversation probably went along these lines.
“You doll that I make. I’m the Swan Queen Oddette, and I don’t love you because you’ve got broken legs. But it doesn’t matter, let’s go and have a drink anyway, and then you can do a dance.”
I thought I’d got away with it until I heard a stifled snort behind me. I turned round to see one of the mechanical dolls; motionless, but with tears of laughter rolling down her cheeks.
Version four was by Terry Etheridge; another ex-London Festival Ballet dancer. This time, like the EYB production, there were two girls alternating the part of Swanilda. Caroline, a stylish English dancer and a whizz,-bang-flash Japanese dancer, whose party piece during the overture was to do nine or ten pirouettes on point. Not nine or ten single pirouettes but a continuous turn of nine or ten, and she did it on the music, and not only once either; she did it fairly regularly. I hate a show off don’t you?
Now we’re at January 2007, and
The phone rang,
“Hello” I replied, thinking ‘I know that voice.’
“It’s Janet Lewis here. Have you ever played the part of Dr Coppelius?
And so we were off into version number five
Two days later a rehearsal schedule and a video of EYB production arrived on my front door mat, and a few weeks later I met the EYB team for the first time.
As this was the fifth production I’d learnt, I’d been a little worried about my ability to take in yet another version, so before the first day of rehearsal I did my homework fairly well by watching the video of EYB’s Nottingham show over and over again. Unfortunately the show had changed subtly since it was recorded, so I started to learn version number six. And so far I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. However, I should mention the curtain calls in High Wycombe. Julianne, the Swanilda that night, had just received a huge bouquet containing many different type of flowers, among them half a dozen gladioli. We all walked forward, I bowed, Julianne graciously curtsied and managed to stick a gladioli stem up my nose. I wasn’t too happy about it, but it did make Elle, the Coppelia doll, laugh quite a lot.
I have to admit I‘m still occasionally having slight problems remembering which version I’m doing. Most nights I try to find a dark corner somewhere back stage before the show starts where I can run through things silently, which usually involves a lot of arm waving and muttering, And still there’s one annoying place in Act Two, where it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve rehearsed it, I feel a wave of panic and confusion coming over me. I start thinking “I know it’s the right arm that points on count three, or was it count four, no it’s count three, but it’s the left arm, no that was version number two from ten years ago.”, by which time I’m totally confused. Fortunately both Casper and Matt both know where this bit is, and if I’m staring at either of them like a rabbit caught a cars headlights, I usually get a whispered prompt.
Now a few helpful hints for any mime scene you might get to do in the future:
1 Make it clear. Fairly obvious I would have thought, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t. Remember to consider the size of the theatre. A raised eyebrow will be seen in a theatre seating three hundred, but not from the back of a theatre seating a thousand .
2 Do it on the music. Another obvious one, but you’d be surprised…. Also really listen to the music. Most narrative ballets, for example Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Coppélia had music composed in collaboration with the choreographer. The composer knew what was going to happen on stage and wrote music to suit. In other words, and to put it at it’s simplest, don’t try to convey sadness when the music is joyful, and don’t try to be funny when the music is dramatic. To sum up, listen to the music and follow it, and it will do half the work for you.
3 Does it make sense? This is the difficult one. Imagine a foreign film on the television but without subtitles. Now imagine two actors performing a very simple scene,
Woman “Do you love me?”
Now you might not understand the words they are using, but if the actors are any good, you should have a pretty good idea what is happening When the big classic ballets were first produced, audiences knew what all the gestures meant, and could easily follow what the performers were telling them. Audiences today don’t know what these gestures mean, so you have to be really careful. “I love you” is fairly straight forward to mime, but with some things you really have to give the audience all the help you can, so they understand what you are telling them. Unfortunately some things are almost impossible to make clear for a modern audience, so you just have to do your best.
4 If you are doing a scene with another person. React to what they are saying to you. Don’t just stand there waiting for your turn. This doesn’t mean waving your arms about frantically so everybody is watching you and not your partner.
5 Continually assess what you are doing. This applies to the dancing as well. Theatre is a live art. It’s not like film or television, which captures a moment of time and holds it. Theatre changes all the time. The audience changes every night and will react differently. If you are in the same show for weeks, or months or even years, things will change slowly. Sometimes its all right to let them change. It might be an improvement, but sometimes the changes make it worse. What I’m trying to say is, continually try to improve things. Just because something worked last week doesn’t mean it can’t be thought through again and made better.
And finally, a big hello to Alice, Raffaella and Elle, who were the Coppélia dolls in Preston, Worthing and High Wycombe.
Look forward to meeting some of you in 2008
Another year of performances over! And what a way to end. Those of you who read this letter regularly will know that the Kings theatre in Southsea is a bit of a special venue for EYB and this visit was no exception. It started with the audition which was attended by twice as many dancers than our 1st one 4 years ago, the standard was very high and we had a record number of boys auditioning. For the first time in our history we had 5 senior boys of a similar standard which added a whole new dimension to the group dances and I had a lot of fun teaching them how to partner. As you may know the Theatre was saved from closure 4 years ago and money has been invested to improve the building. The front of house has come on a long way, the other side of the curtain has a bit of catching up to do though. What made this visit a little more special was one of those coincidences you can never plan for. The Kings Theatre was celebrating its 100 anniversary this year AND Julianne’s Grandmother (who is local to the area) reached her 100th year during our performances! She and at least 50 family members and friends came to see Julianne dance Aurora on the Saturday before having the birthday party. It was a very special performance for Julianne and to say she was a tad nervous would be an understatement! But she did her Grandmother proud as we all expect of her and it will be a fond memory for her and her family.
We also had a nice little bonus performance a week later. As we had won the TMA/Stage award last year we were invited to provide some of the entertainment for this years ceremony and we were asked to come up with 5 minutes that represented what we are all about that could be danced to the live 5 piece band playing that night! Not as easy as it sounds as people don’t always realise that we don’t have all of you at our beck and call all of the time. Miss Lewis decided to do 3 dances from the Nutcracker using some of the dancers from the Dunstable production as they were nearest to London. Even that wasn’t as easy as it sounds. In the end Esme Bacalla-Hayes andIsabel O'Neill danced a version of the Doll’s and Children's dances from the party scene, Shannen Redmond, Natalie Francis, Hannah Griffiths, Jessica Arnold, Daniel Greenway and Sam Hindmarsh danced the Spanish dance from Act 2 and Emma danced the Sugar Plum Fairy variation with Kasper being the master of ceremonies as Drosselmeyer all to a rather Jazzy arrangement by the house band! I have to say they did you all proud, Miss Lewis was very impressed with all involved and many people commented that it was the highlight of the evening and the organiser said that it added a touch of class to the evening, so well done to all.
This year maybe over but as usual next year has started for us, we have been rehearsing the principals this week, starting to get to grips with the choreography for our new production of Giselle. Dancers relish the chance to work on new roles and they were all pretty red in the face by the time we finished today. Giselle is a new challenge for EYB, a lot of work goes into the planning with the main challenge being marrying the traditional to what is expected of an EYB production. I think we have it pretty much nailed now. The next two weeks will see more rehearsals and our first two auditions for next year, after that the principals will be busy in various other endeavours, Julianne and Matthew will be on tour with the Strauss Gala again, Emma will dancing Juliet in a new production of Romeo & Juliet in Malta, Oliver will be busy in France, Kasper busy teaching at the Urdang, I’m working on a new piece of weirdness for the Anglian Ballet Company and Miss Lewis and Bridget will be getting next year sorted out. So, no rest for the wicked really.
At the certificate ceremony in Southsea commendations went to the Friends for their group work, the 5 senior boys for their improved partnering and turns, Claire Swinbourne (Lady Beauty/Solo Jewel) for her use of arms, Paige Elson (Relative/Solo Jewel) for hard work and good understudying, Timothy Raison (Charm/Hop O My Thumb) for improvement with style, Jazzmin Coles (Charm/Kitten) for hard work and consistency, Caroline Herszenhorn (Lilac/Russian) for her smile, Annabel Devine (Honesty/Cryonite) for her technique and Donna Jackson (Relative/Cinderella) for her use of face and improvement. I would also like to add the Guests were one of the nicest groups I have worked with, a pleasure to teach.
The Junior Prize went to Bethany Relf (Lady Songbird/White Cat) and Ashley Merrikin (Lord Songbird/Puss in Boots) and the senior Prize went to Rebecca Herszenhorn (Nurse) and Luke Jackson (Guest).
I have had messages from Andrew Dower who was given a place at Central School of Ballet and started the week after he finished with us in Southsea Katherine Hamilton who got 95% in her Grade 7 RAD, Emily Starling who got Merit for her RAD Advance 1, Alfie Jago who will be appearing in the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, EmilyWestgarth who is a mouse in Northern Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker, Amber Thompson who got an A for her GCSE in Dance after only 8 months, will be performing in Dick Whittington at the Nottingham playhouse and in New English Contemporary Ballet's production of (you’ve guessed it) The Nutcracker. Finally, Henry Perkins who danced with us in Woking in 2000 was featured in the BBC’s Imagine series in a film about his first year at the Bolshoi School in Russia. He is only the 2nd English student to go there and it was the 1st time a British camera crew was allowed to film there! Congratulations to all!
Well that's it from me, I may get out a guest letter before the end of the year - both Trevor and Emma are working on pieces - so until then
Keep working hard
Just a short letter this month as I’m about to go on holiday (Whale watching in Monterey Bay) and my computer is going into hospital so I need to get this out quickly as I don’t know which of us is going to give out first! Dunstable was an interesting project, it is always a gamble accepting a booking before a theatre has been built! Fortunately it was finished on time but was having the usual teething problems new buildings have (nobody sure where everything is or how it works?!?). On the whole they have done a good job (the things that are done well are excellent, the things done badly makes you wonder if they ever consulted anyone who works or visits a theatre...) and it is a nice space to dance in and there is even decent parking!!! The two week summer course is always very intense and I am always impressed by how much the students can take in over such a short period and how well they gel together and Dunstable was no exception. Even though it was the smallest cast we have had in some time with a broad spread of technical ability the company feel was excellent, we were all impressed by the group dancing and acting. The party scene buzzed along and the lines in the Waltz of the Flowers were outstanding. The behaviour of the students was excellent and the attendance was the best all year (only one student ill!) We have already spent a week in Southsea and it should be an interesting end to the year but we all shall be taking a much needed and well earned break over the next two weeks...
At the certificate ceremony commendations went to The Snowflake as a group for their improvement , the Waltz of the Flowers for their excellent group work and lines, Saskia Twiss (Child/Chinese) for her dramatic ability, Isabel O’Neill (Doll/Sweet) for her good use of legs and feet, Emily Hart (Child/Reed Pipe) for dancing with maximum effort throughout, Cordelia Braithwaite and Trudie Woolhead (Snow Queen Attendants) for their improved technique and finally the 3 leads Kesi Dorey (Clara), Alfie Jago (Fritz) and Daniel Greenway (Mouse King) for their dramatic interpretations and consistency. Prizes went to Kirsty Ingram (Governess/Spanish) for acting, performance quality and style and Jack Rubens (Father/Spanish/Jig) for the most improvement over all.
I have had messages from Helena Sandford who is a second year York Scholar, Emily Westgarth who is now A JA with the Northern School of Ballet and will be performing in The Nutcracker with them, Collette Wyatt who will starting at the Northern School of Ballet this term, Imogen Lyon who has been accepted on the Elmhurst pre Vocational Program, Rosie Porter who got merit in her RAD intermediate foundation, Natasha Pearson who got an A in her Dance A Level and will be going on to do Dance Studies at Roehampton University, Kesi Dorey who will be starting in Tring this term and Robert Howse who has done well in his dance and GCSE exams and will be taking up a scholarship place at the Northern School of Ballet.
Thats all for now, keep your news coming in and as always, keep working hard!
Just a short intro from me as Oliver has written a guest spot for this letter. We went straight from High Wycombe to Stoke and we are in Dunstable this week so we are all feeling a little shattered! High Wycombe and Stoke were different productions with different temperaments in the cast but one headache - absenteeism - what with exams, end of term and school shows it was very tricky getting everyone together at the same level and the understudies were working overtime! The cast in High Wycombe were nice and quiet, Stoke not so, but as one student pointed out “not as bad as Preston”. Unfortunately the boys in Stoke let themselves down back stage. As a summary High Wycombe had some outstanding group work (best Czardas ever) and Stoke had some outstanding individual work and both theatres were nice and big with lots of room on stage and back. Well enough from me, I have to get the timetable done for Dunstable, over to Oli...
My Right Knee
I would like to start off by thanking everyone for their kind words and wishes about my knee. As a sequel to Julianne’s “My Left Foot”, and to let you know the whole story to date, I thought I would write and tell you all about “My Right Knee”. Unfortunately, as with all physically active jobs, one of the risks of our profession are injuries. They nearly always occur at times when we are working our hardest (or possibly overworking), and are never welcome. This is what happened to me.
The problems with my knee started last October (2006), as a small pain of the tendon between my kneecap and shin bone (my patella tendon), one that I only felt on big jumps. This was, at the time, diagnosed as a little tendonitis- but as time wore on, and as the pain grew, I could feel that this was not going to recover quite so easily. By December, for the Nutcracker season in Toulouse, the pain was becoming unbearable. At the beginning of February I landed from a big jump, and made a small tear in my tendon. After a quick trip to A&E I learnt that the phrase “you need surgery” is just as scary a phrase in French as in English (so much for the romance of the latin languages!).
After many discussions with various doctors, I decided to takes four weeks off, have a cortazone (steroid) injection, and try to make it to the end of the season, with a view to having my surgery in April. They were a tough couple of weeks there, but I’m pleased I chose this path. Here in Toulouse we had a really great modern triple bill programme, with two ballets in the evening having a role created on me, and the third being the welcome return of a personal favourite choreographer. It was a real honour to have been chosen by the choreographers, and I loved every minute of it. When the shows ended, and I was checked in for my surgery, the difference between theatre and hospital was quite a shock!
I am sure that Julianne will agree with me in saying that the whole hospital experience is really quite surreal, and at the time stressful, followed by a huge relief. Also, I am sure Dominic will agree with me, tendons are extremely painful post surgery, and we don’t realise how much we use them until they are ruptured. Also, I am here to let you all know that hospital food is as bad in France as it is in the UK, no joke, but I can’t really complain as I was very well cared for. After the surgery I was in hospital for four days and then in the caste, on crutches for three weeks; but with lots of physio and hard work, things started to move in the right direction.
Which brings us to June, my return to the world of ballet, and the stage! But, as those who read my previous newsletter will know, nothing happens without a little drama while I’m around. I found out, just before I went into hospital, that Emma was all booked up “Swanning” around with ENB, and so we were to welcome back Maria for Yeovil’s performances of Sleeping Beauty. However, I found out at around the time I had the caste taken off, that Maria had injured her right knee also (I do like to match my partners), so we had to move on to plan C. After a few phone calls between Miss Lewis and myself, it was decided that I would bring over a girl that I dance with here in Toulouse. Enter Miss Juliana Bastos stage right.
Juliana and I have been dancing together for about four years over here in Toulouse, but due to the technical difficulty of Sleeping Beauty, it was not going to be easy to get it together in the limited time we had. But of course we made it, and I thought that Juliana’s debut with EYB was a great success, as she gave some very nice performances. I hobbled through them realising that I still had a fair way to go on the road to recovery, but also with the confidence that I made it through one of the hardest classical ballets, so the only way is up!
I am currently writing this newsletter from my computer in Toulouse, as I am back here to dance our small summer season, which consists of a couple of open air
performances (the pleasure of dancing in the summer heat). I am looking forward to making my return to EYB in Stoke, and finding my Canadian Sleeping Beauty, I will then be participating in the condensed summer period with Nutcracker in Dunstable; and just yesterday I confirmed with Miss Lewis that my director here in France has given me the time off to do the Southsea shows as well. This was important to me because it was my very first venue with EYB a little over two years ago, so it’s a definite welcome return, although it’s funny to think how the time has flown.
Take Care of yourselves, I hope to see you all, injury free, very soon!
At the certificate ceremony in High Wycombe commendations went to the Czardas and Work Hours as polished groups, Scottish Dolls- so together and focussed, Jasmine Handford (Betrothal & Scottish Doll) who worked intelligently, Verity Holloway (Morning Hour) for working hard and consistently, Rachel Sutcliffe (Little Villager) for her mime of knocking at door, Alana Pitman (Little friend) for performance quality and RosslynMcNair (Czardas) for style and panache.
Prizes went to Jenny Jones (Work Hour) for outstanding performance quality from day one, Eleanor Johnson (Coppelia Doll) for technical improvement, Richard Linnell for good performance and potential talent and Daisy Winter-Taylor (villager) for outstanding acting.
In Stoke commendations went to the Lilac and Songbird groups with special mentions for Imogen Lyon (songbird) for being alert and good use of feet and Christina Deakin and Laura Clare (Lilacs) for their improved point work. Other commendations went to Charles Brink (Photographer) for his acting and technical improvement, Jessica Simpson (Guest) for her performance quality throughout the whole project, Neve Campbell and Grace Carr (Cryonites) for their consistent good work, Joshua Humphreys for his professional approach, Abigail Blackburn (Duchess) and Laura Reid (Nurse) for their acting and performance and finally the 6 solo girls especially Katherine Hamilton for their polished performances and approach to their work. The Junior prize went to Benjamin Thomas and the Senior Prize went to Madeleine Price both who were outstanding.
I have had messages from Aimée Cheetham to say she will be going to the Rambert School in september, Genna Heron who will be going to White Lodge, Lucie Tipping who is an Associate with Birmingham Royal Ballet and will be performing in the New English Contemporary Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker and was picked to perform at the Edinburgh Festival with them, Laura Willey who has just finished her 2nd year at the Northern Ballet School and is doing well and performing in all their shows and finally George Chantler who has just become a JA with the Royal Ballet. Congratulations to all and apologies to anyone who I haven’t had a chance to reply to their e-mails, please keep them coming!
Keep working hard